The following are a collection of thoughts, observations, and self-reflections from a weekend away at Shark City Barbell in Norfolk, Virginia during a deadlift fundraiser for our non-profit foundation for underprivileged children.
So fine, the thin white lines of sprinkled and dispersed calcium carbonate coating a freshly used floor. Its patterns navigating onward and up onto a raised platform, the small unique curvature of the timber, grasping each speck. I smear it with an already talcum adorned slipper, watching the minerals of calcite catch across each grain of wood. Pushing harder, the planks groan under even just my bodyweight, countless kilos heaved and tossed upon its rubber suited surface. I take this in and breath, a long settling sigh of anxiety and conviction simultaneously mixing with the need to commit.
How with love and charity I have grown so forgiving. How unsettling it is to no longer act as two separate entities, gifted with the inability to detach one from the other. An hour passes and one of us strays while the other paces the platform. I am two people: The caring and the violent.
Why must there be something so mesmerizing about the entwining of black and white stripes, layering each revolution upon the other. How delicate the balance, the exact proportions lined up or not, the success and failure dependent upon its preciseness. Circling the outside of the knee, just below the cap, a taught X biting down into the cruciform and covering the patella, the fleeting seconds of raw physical pressure now internalized simultaneously as the crowd begins to stir. I have always reveled in those moments and perhaps always will. Where two parts of me equally become whole before the roar of a sea of spectators. How few and far between these times are; a handful in a lifetime.
I try hard to recall what it used to feel like, that chased sensation, the applause and eyes of wild accomplishments, yet I cannot. It is so far removed from me now that those moments of complete and utter desolation is all I have. Like gravity I am unable to separate from it, drawing me back in a suffocating blanket of emptiness. It starts and I welcome it.
They gather in flocks of equal excitement, restless for the night’s festivities, for triumphs and victories. In back slaps and high fives, I will watch them smiling, so many feeling fresh and filled with new purpose, but I however am not. I enjoy the costumes, the familiar faces of those I have grown accustomed to calling friends and family, but I am unsettled. The sweating, the pacing, the tearing of separate selves — I will be not be whole and yet, the most myself I have ever been. I know that when it is my turn they will cheer, screaming words of encouragement as if the sound could propel the weight itself, but it will fall on deaf ears. I will be too far gone.
I make a hasty effort to keep grounded by staring in her direction. Sitting behind our bear adorned booth, a true merging of all I have worked for. She doesn’t notice, too busy laughing and conversing, but still, it comforts me. I recall worse times where I found out hard work and perfect preps promised nothing.
Wild and fresh, it bloomed like a grapefruit. Bright and vibrant under the hot Vegas sun, I laid propped up poolside while bikini clad bartenders made their rounds. The tear in my VMO, a half inch above the knee to the inside, had not even reached its full potential as it swelled next to the bustling swimming pool. Grumbling with shades aimed low, the black tint unable to hide my disgruntlement, I limped down the handicap rail into the shallows. She was waiting for me, my wife, smiling brightly though the concern in her voice was unable to be masked. I remember how beautiful she was and how lucky I was to have her, wading in the cool water, her dyed skin matching the blue-blacks and purples adorning my leg. She held me that day for what felt like just us two among a sea of tourists, carefully examining the damage below the surface.
“I’m proud of you,” she said, in a half smirk, half sorrowful tone, “but you’ll be back, you’ll see.” And later that year I was.
Pulling the slack from the bar, still unsoiled from the days previous cleaning, it breaks easily from the floor. In what manner does ambition mix with audacity? The loading of hamstrings as the position becomes settled into, the addiction formed so effortlessly under repetition. We load the bar. Others stop and turn. The greatest show on earth, or so it seems. Majestic animals locked in cages, only free when called upon for others amusement. The others smash their face against the glass, cameras flashing hot under particularly placed lights. Howling, the humans scream and yell at us, wanting more, needing to see something truly spectacular. The younger and less experienced of the pack begin to dwindle and drop, the veterans fighting for dominance, each attempting to outdo the other. We bare teeth, show white fang, our true demeanor showcased in a series of brutish grunts and violent cries of celebration. But then, the shift occurs.
It always starts with a sweat, a slight fever, a blood rush behind the ears. The hair standing upon nape and neck, fingers elongating in exchange for claw. How wondrous the feeling, this transformation, of fur and fiber, of bone and sinew, alive in this light. Is it so hard to imagine? The emergence of us as two? I tremble at the thought of who we are in those fleeting instants where we are the most fictional and real versions of self; how even more so, out of good deed and giving, have I made it easier to split us down the middle. I imagine their kind faces and innocent in youth chanting and observing me. So involved and enchanted by something that had consumed me, with them becoming a part of it all.
I taste the blood as the final pull breaks. Metallic and harsh, a copper penny, oozing from gritted gums. Tendons strain, muscles contract, shrieks of onlookers’ blend with the popping of joints. The floor, the shin, the knee, the bar bends at the weights will, the deep reds of the kilos chipping as they chatter. I reminisce on something said but only a few minutes beforehand, “You are the best, they just don’t know it yet.”
Shaking, and quivering, it grows silent for some time. I see their mouths moving, hollers hell-bent on channeling enough charisma to make it rise, but I am too weak. It stays mute as the bar is returned to the floor. Strong is never strong enough.
Travis Rogers works as a high school educator teaching 10th grade English language arts and strength and fitness, as well as running a strength and powerlifting club after school year-round. He frequently takes his students to state and regional competitions in the USPA and RPS powerlifting federations and competes regularly himself, while also speaking at seminars and announcing and judging for USPA East. He recently totaled 1,829 in sleeves at 198 at the 2019 USPA Ohio Nationals tying the Top Ten Total of all time.